Campfire Audio NOVA review - expatinjapan





Campfire Audio Nova. What is all the buzz about? On Head-fi.org the Campfire Audio thread dedicated to the Andromeda and Nova models are all abuzz with the sweet expectation of how the new model could sound. Tie that in with 200 units recently up for grabs on Massdrop and a pre-order at a decent price on the Campfire Audio website and the IEM community goes into a blind feeding frenzy.

I was fortunate enough through circumstance to receive an early unit of the Nova and have attempted on head-fi.org to give initial impressions which were predictably garbled to an extent, although in my defense I think I painted enough of picture of what the Nova would sound like to help those in their purchasing decisions.

Common sense told me to hold off for a proper full review but my public awaited! And being the gentleman I am, I half delivered.

On with the show.

*Build, packaging and fit is the same across Campfire Audio products so excuse me If I borrow from earlier reviews for those sections.

Build
Build, quality and shape is virtually identical across the board with Campfire Audio products.

The Nova as you can see in the photos is machined from aluminum and is sturdy. It is a strong, well built IEM, robust and able to handle most rough housing.

It is lightweight which belies its outer image, it gives the illusion of being sharp edged but is in fact rounded in its own way thanks to great design.


Each part is precision machined out of aluminum with  two small bore holes. The two halves of the housing being connected by bolts. 



Using MMCX connectors with reinforcement makes for a safe and sturdy cable where it counts the most. The ability to swap out the 3.5mm cable for a 2.5mm balanced cable (not included) is also a plus.


The new Litz wire cable makes its entrance into the Campfire audio range and will eventually be the standard cable for all the CA range. No need for any cable upgrades with this beauty.

Note the chin slider for added comfort and a securer fit.





Packaging

The Campfire Audio Nova comes in a simple box like The Jupiter I received, yet with one important difference in detail. Now one can easily open the box (same process for the Andromeda) once the plastic shrink wrap is removed without having to cut into it. 
When I received The Jupiter having to cut through the beautiful sticker was a saddening process (See The Jupiter unboxing).










Once again Campfire Audio has included a beautiful and strong case to protect the IEMs, lined with wool. This time Campfire Audio has moved away from the leather case that the Jupiter and Andromeda come with, and this time in a matching gray.
Simple, functional and elegant.




Extras not pictured. As with other Campfire Audio products the Nova comes with a set of Comply tips in S/M/L, a set of silicone tips in S/M/L, a cleaning brush and a Campfire Audio logo pin.




Fit
Recently I have read several reports about fit for Campfire Audio products.
It seems like many IEMs a process of trial and error involving some tip rolling of the included tips (recommend to keep within the intended sound signature of the Nova) and aftermarket or other brands tips.
The cable has a chin slider to help keep them secure as well as a memory wire for around the ears.


Here pictured with the Comply tips. Campfire Audio and myself recommend silicone tips for the Nova as it retains the sound signature of the Nova best.






Sound

Well this is the section that most are looking for, maybe even breezing past the build, packaging and fit sections in search of an answer to the question that will enable them proceed to unite them with their precious.

Reviewing the Nova has been a struggle at time, from requests for early fractured impressions from the denizens of head-fi.org desperately trying to make a decision before the pre-order and Massdrop close their doors.....Nothing like a limited time to set a feeding frenzy going for the early adopters, but thats all part of the fun.....to having in my possession the higher end CA Jupiter and CA Andromeda to confuse matters further.

Reviewing low end gear and high end gear is infinitely easier than review mid fi gear.

I was torn between whether to review the Andromeda or Nova first and went for the flagship, perhaps the old adage `save the best for last` would have fitted the process more finely, If only I had been more prescient. Hindsight can possess more accurate vision than the sharpest illuminating foresight.

As usual I clocked up a decent set of hours on the IEMs before commencing the review, either through listening, leaving an old iphone to play varied music and tracks on shuffle as well as having a burn album on there of different frequencies. In the end over 150 hours were logged.

Most of the testing was done using the Centrance Hifi-Skyn with an ipod touch 6G 128GB using Flacplayer app by Dan Leehr. Other times I used the Shozy Alien.
Tips used were either the stock silicone tips or the JVC Spiral tips.


On the head-fi.org thread dedicated to the Nova and Andromeda member Audio123 described the Nova as `Technical` and that is a term I keep returning to. Not analytical or sterile, but technical.
Technical matches the color and performance of the Nova.

I found I had a different experience when using the powerful Centrance Hifi Skyn which rendered the Nova more fuller but at the expense of some micro details at times, later when using the Shozy Alien it was a bit more clearer, laid back and airy. less low end was present on the Shozy Alien.

The Nova reproduces vocals accurately, female vocals are especially silky smooth and sweet.

The Nova has a decently wide soundstage, is accurate in terms of musical reproduction, open, instrument separation is excellent and it is well balanced between music and vocals.

At times I could describe the sound as organic, which is to be interpreted as not overly digital sounding.
I would tentatively say that it is a fairly neutral IEM, it does not seem to favor the lows, mids or highs in an ideal setting with the right source and tips.

I have read that a few people consider the CA Orion to be a mini Jupiter, and at times during my listening I have in my head referred to the Nova as a mini Andromeda - but I would not like to fully commit to that assessment.

It has great layering, fast response, wide soundstage, detailed, clean and clear. Those points could also be said about the other IEMs by Campfire Audio. 

So what are the particulars of the Nova?

*With the supplied stock silicone tips:
Bass has decreased to a natural level.
More organic and smoother.
Balanced over the spectrum of lows/mids/highs.
Treble now is quite sweet. No sibilance i think. More extension.
Good width and extension.
Still a fast response.
Silky smooth accurate vocals.
Better height, not too much.
Good overall detail and separation.
Better balance over the freq.
Crisp and concise, fast response.
Natural.

*With the JVC Spirals tips:
Lots of low end at times (sub bass?) although ok at moderate listening levels.
Vocals are good, smooth and accurate.
Treble is smooth and clear, not extended or sparkly.
A kind of flat reference sound at times, although not reference due to the bass at times.
Smooth and rounded.
Bass gives it body.
Not energetic, but can be lively.
Not V or U shaped.

I found the CA Nova to be more source dependent when using the JVC Spiral tips.

*With the supplied Comply tips:
The Nova with the Comply tips is a nice combination. 
It does not seem to overly increase the bass as usual.
Highs are slightly tamed as is often the case with Comply tips.

It is a fairly even IEM overall. With sometimes and emphasis on the bass or mids - track dependent
Bass and treble are moderate. Thicker tips will give more low end, thinner shorter tips more sparkle at the high end.
With the stock tips the highs are airy and realistic than extended, the bass is at a enjoyable listening level.


Nova frequency chart as supplied by Campfire Audio.




Value
Whether you purchased these on the pre-order or Massdrop promotions at a discount, or joined the party later to pay slightly more the Nova is great value at the mid price point range of US$499.

Fantastic build, excellent sound and a wonderful cable, not to mention stunning looks makes this a regret free purchase.

Of course with Campfire Audio offering five different models to choose from with each tuned to a certain signature one has to find the right model for ones own personal taste.



Overall

The Campfire Audio Nova is an excellent new entrant into the mid fi world of IEMs, not the most over crowded area but still one fraught with competition.

The Nova is not a $200-300 IEM, nor is it in the $700 plus bracket.

I think it is excellent as an IEM, but when I have the Andromeda sitting here I can easily hear who comes out in top. But that is an unfair comparison in terms of price and performance.

It is a quality IEM, build is great and the sound splendid. If it is in your price range I think one would be happy with the purchase.

It does not seem to have a V shape as such, and one can also customize the sound slightly with tips.

Some have described the Nova as a dark IEM, that is track and source and track dependent imho , at other times I found them to be light and airy. I think when the song has a lot of central and upper mids it can appear darker.
It could be due to how much power the amp involved has.

It is a fairly even IEM overall.
Bass and treble are moderate.
The bass can be increased or decreased via tip rolling.
With the stock tips the highs are airy and realistic rather than extended.

If I was to do a sound signature shape comparison off hand:
Jupiter XxX, Andromeda XXX, Nova XXx.

All in all an enjoyable IEM, the Nova reproduces the tracks fairly accurately, has a nice organic sense to it, does not seem to color the music. The fit for me is quite comfortable and long listening sessions are non fatiguing.





Thank you to Campfire Audio for sending Head pie the Nova
-expatinjapan

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